Quiet Please
Off The Wall, October 28, 2010

I was visited recently by Lucy Lucknot, who was on her world tour and happened to stop in and see me. She related an unpleasant incident that I thought it worth sharing.

Lucy and I have been acquaintances for a very long time. So, when we met, the topic became a conversational piece and it put my mind in gear.

“I was putting my carry on luggage in the top compartment above her seat of the aircraft. Wanting to be friendly to the woman sitting beside her I pleasantly asked, ‘May I help you with your bag?’ You’d think the female passenger would have been most appreciative. Instead Ms. Grumpo (that’s what I’m going to call her) turned and blurted out, ‘I’d appreciate if you wouldn’t talk to me on this whole trip.”’

Can you imagine riding over 20 hours in a plane, having a person beside you, who won’t say so much as a word next to you? That blows me away.

I am reminded of an email I received recently of a little girl who asked a neighboring passenger if he would talk to her. She said, “It will make the time go faster.” How comes she gets the message, but Grumpo doesn’t? That is certainly beyond me.

I often wondered how others would have reacted. So I did what comes natural. Put out a survey to others to see what they would say. For the first time in the history of writing this column, I got a full 100% in returns that Lucy should respect the wishes of her fellow passenger, some responses stronger than others. A number of people said that they would pray for Ms. Grumpo, that that would be the right thing to do.

As I lay in bed, I began to meditate just what it would be like sitting next to a soul who told this old male country folk not to talk to her. The first thing that popped into my head was what if I was in Lucy’s place in the passenger section of an aircraft. Could I take her place?

There is something inside of me that says “Count me out. Can’t do it. I come from a town whereby everyone talks to everyone else. That is the great thing about living in Ligonier, Latrobe, and the surrounding communities. We are all one big family that shares what is happening, not happening or just going on in our towns and its people. One may not find that in a big municipality, but is a common thing around this neck of the woods to brush up by talking to most every one we meet.

On the other hand, a plan would be to board the airliner with lots to do irrespective of planning on conversing to those around me. Maybe that's a better plan of attack.

So, there she sat. Many thoughts were going through her mind, I’m sure. There are only twenty more hours to go. Whoopee…If one has the privilege to share some kind of subject matter with the other persons, time does “fly” a little faster. The thought of finding persons somewhere nearby to share something with went through her mind.

After the sixth hour, Lucy turned to Ms. Grumpo and murmured two words – “Knock, Knock…” All she’d need to say is, “Who’s there,” and there would be a short conversation. On the other hand, maybe this person is not familiar with our lame jokes. Lucy did as advised, as hard as it was – kept to herself.

Maybe our Asian traveler could just observe what Grumpo was reading. It first may not make sense to her, but then, if she studied it a little more she could comprehend if it was bomb-making material or a book on ways to commit suicide in a parking lot. As a result, Lucy may get the heebie-jeebies that she is sitting next to a real whacko. I guess it is best, after all, to mind her own business. It could be worse, after all.

When we are among strangers, we really don’t know what makes others tick. Lucy should do as the others advised her to do – “Shut Up,” even though it is not among her nature to do so. It may be hard, but in the long run, the wisest. wouldn’t you say?

Going one step further beyond Lucy’s predicament, how do you think Ms. Grumbo reacts to the fly attendants’ questioning? Would she also respond to their statements pertaining to light refreshments as she did to Lucy, or would she then blurt out, “Tea,” without so much as a please or a thank you? In her culture, that’s her way, possibly. In ours, love conquers all. If we can maintain that way of thinking, we can accomplish a lot.

- Paul J. Volkmann
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